It was both painful and healing to sing at our wedding as the processional hymn, the same hymn that had been sung at the funeral of my wife's mother. In Thee Is Gladness served as both the musical framework for a family gathered in grief at an untimely death and the pattern of joy for two lives to begin as one. Singing belongs at both weddings and funerals.Sadly, we do not sing much at either. Families often bring in soloists to sing for us and the songs are generally less than salutary -- the latest pop fad or Broadway musical hit (spare me the Phantom and "The Music of the Night") or we hear cd versions of their favs from the ipod (Country Western tear jerkers abound in funeral homes in my neck of the woods). But we do not sing.
In the Apostolic Constitutions is a collection of eight treatises, Church Orders, dating from 375 to 380 AD, probably from Syria, most likely Antioch. Its author is unknown, though some suggest it was the same author of the letters of Pseudo-Ignatius, perhaps the 4th century Eunomian bishop Julian of Cilicia. There is this marvelous direction to singing in the Apostolic Constitutions, in the funerals of the departed, accompany them with singing, if they were faithful in Christ. For “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” (6, 30).
One of my favorite anthems, set by Robert Gawthorpe, is a prayer written by Jane Griner, set to music. The pleading is rather haunting and mystical:
If you would comfort me, sing me a lullaby
If you would win my heart, sing me a love song
If you would mourn me and bring me to God,
sing me a requiem, sing me to Heaven . . .
I would encourage us to sing more at weddings and funerals. Singing not the pop songs sung in the shower by the departed or screeched while heading down the highway with windows down and radio blaring, but the songs of the faith. Sing the hope that is within us when we say sweet goodbye to loved ones whose journey is complete while we still walk (by faith and not by sight). Sing of the faith and of the One who is the third string in the three corded union that is holy marriage (and not sentimental songs of love that is sweet but fragile and weak).
At one such funeral (memorial) a week ago, we sang "Beautiful Savior" and "Sing with All the Saints in Glory" and "I Know that My Redeemer Lives" and "Children of the Heavenly Father." Even for a crowd which was mostly non-Lutheran and whose experience singing in church probably minimal, we found songs that were accessible and the songs of faith which the departed had sung in the congregation over the years. At one wedding the bride wanted no less than a half a dozen hymns sung -- not wedding hymns per se but the wonderful sturdy hymns of faith that had nurtured her faith from childhood. We settled on three.
Accompany the departed with singing... indeed. And don't forget weddings, either. What better way to frame the start of a new couple's life together as husband and wife than with singing (in my own case, "In Thee Is Gladness" and "Now Thank We All Our God"). Grief and joy combine for the Christian into a common denominator -- the church's song!